Edmonton Oilers “Hot Stove”

By Jim Harnock

The Edmonton Oilers off-season has been relatively quiet since the draft — a fact many fans can be heard grumbling about. In this team-effort article, the Oilers staff at HF takes a good look at the handlful of developments that have taken place since the season ended.
Is the team sitting pretty? Are we in for a rough ride? Read on and find out what your friendly neighbourhood HF contributors think…

1.    Did not re-sign D Sven Butenschon

Dean Belanger:  One of the many surprising moves
of this off season. While I don’t think that Sven would ever be more than
a 6th or 7th D man, defense is not exactly a position of strength for the
Oilers right now. If they make a trade or sign someone, I’m OK with the move.
If they don’t, bad move.

Michael Speidel:  At the end of the day there are only
so many depth defencemen a team can  have, especiallywhen splitting
an AHL affiliate with another team.  Clearly the management has decided
that Haakana and Pisa are better fits, and I can’t really disagree with that
from the little I’ve seen of all 3 players.

Jim Harnock:  This move did not surprise me at all – I
had been saying all along that Boots would be gone in the off season for
the simple reason that he has had more than ample opportunity to make an
NHL career for himself but every time ended up back in the AHL.  With
the drafting of Ales Pisa and Kari Haakana, the Oilers got two guys who were
already at Butenschon’s level, if not beyond it, and who had played at very
high level in Europe (arguably a higher level than the AHL).  Really,
all this move did was free up an AHL roster spot.

Lain Babcock:  This is somewhat of a surprise in that Boots
was the first callup over the last couple of seasons, the team’s unofficial
8th defenseman. He also had some offensive potential to his game, and had
a tremendous season with the Bulldogs. However, just like Chris Hajt and
Alex Henry, he appears to have been passed by younger prospects like Semenov,
Allen and the older Euros like Pisa and Haakana.

Steve Morrow:  Sven was solid at the end of the season but
the Oilers are deep on defense, a matter of numbers. No great loss.

2.    Acquired C Jiri Dopita for a 3rd round pick in 2003
and a conditional 5th in 2004

DB:  Great, awesome, I love it. They gave up no
depth and improved the second line. Added a big center which was a major
priority.

MS:  A good, solid move by Lowe.  Not much will
be lost if Dopita doesn’t pan out, with the upside being that the second
line center slot will be filled for a year or two while a longer term solution
can be found.  Maybe Dopita can coax Cleary into the top 6 on a permanent
basis, but at the least he adds some size up the middle and someone for
York to play with.

JH:  If the Todd Marchant for Jiri Dopita rumours had
been true, I would say this trade killed the Oilers, but Kevin Lowe isn’t
an idiot.  This is a great acquisition for the team – a big, experienced
centre who gives Edmonton a bona fide second line for the first time since…
since… anyone remember the last really good second line the Oilers have
had…?

LB:  Considering his credentials, Dopita was a complete
bargain. Although his season with the Flyers may have been less than anticipated,
he proved he can play in this league. My hope is that he improves the power
play, as well as being a mentor for young Ales Hemsky, one of many Czech’s
who hold Dopita in high regard for his accomplishments.

SM:  I loved the acquisition of Dopita, he is big, has talent,
and best of all he plays centre. We gave up nothing to get him. He is going
to help.

John Christie:  Solid move by Kevin Lowe.  This is not
a big gamble as Dopita is signed for one year and the Oilers are under no
obligation after next season.  The Oilers acquired Dopita for lesser
value then Philadelphia and the Oilers need a solid 2nd line centre. 
Other intangibles include helping the younger players and the other Czech
players the Oilers have on the roster.  If the Oilers do not re-sign
Dopita or Dopita bolts to Europe, only a 3rd rounder is lost which is not
to steep a price to pay for a talented European.

3.    Drafted C Jesse Niinimaki in a shocker first round
pick

DB:  My reaction at the time, “What the ….”
You fill in the blank. After he compared himself to Forsberg, I felt a
lot better. I will give Lowe the benefit of the doubt and rate this move
in three years.

MS:  It’s hard to know whether the Oilers made a steal
here, or whether they took a misguided shot in the dark.  I know
that I like the confidence Lowe has in his scouting staff to allow them
to go so far off the board.  I’m sure that they thought long and
hard about the pick knowing that they were planning to select a long-shot,
and thus questioned their decision during the pre-draft meetings. 
In the end though, they stuck with their man, right or wrong.  It’s
good to see that conviction.  We will never know if it was a mistake
to take him in the first round though.  Perhaps he would have slid
through to Edmonton in the second, but obviously they didn’t think so or
else they would have drafted someone else in the first and waited it out
until the second round for Niinimaki.  It has been rumored that 23
teams interviewed him in Toronto, supposedly some of which were willing
to take him in the first round.

JH:  The 2002 draft on the whole was considered one
big guessing game due to the lack of “big talent,” so I have a hard time
judging this move.  On the one hand, going so far off the board makes
me nervous – why was he rated so low, yet selected at the 15th spot? – but
on the other hand, the Oiler scouts must have seen something in Niinimaki
that warranted the jump.  Given the drafting history of the Lowe regime
thus far, I’m willing to take the wait-and-see approach, rather than crucify
them just yet.

LB:  I like the move. The Oilers had several of their
scouts see him, and liked what they saw. Despite what some may see as similarities
between Niinimaki and Mikhnov (2000 draft), that pick was based on one scout
(Kent Nilsson) convincing the rest of the room. Niinimaki was a team draft,
and from what we read could easily cover the pick.

SM:  What can you say?  If the guy plays like Forsberg
as he claims he can, we should be in great shape.

JC:  At first, I was totally shocked but hearing the reports
on this guy, I am confident he will turn into a player.  He has excellent
size and great speed and skill.  At the NHL draft, one scout said that
Niinimaki would be a first round pick regardless of draft ranking. 
This picks reminds me of Derick Morris, Nick Antropov and Peter Forsberg
where each player was taken so early and none of the players were ranked
in the first round.

4.    Traded LW Jochen Hecht for the 31st (G Jeff Deslauriers)
and 36th (C Jarrett Stoll) overall picks in 2002 draft

DB:  Lets evaluate this in two parts. I was
shocked by the fact that Lowe gave up on Hecht so quickly. Obviously Mac
T had no use for him, but goal scoring is the Oilers biggest weakness, and
to give up 20 goal potential is pretty tough. Sabres basically replaced
Kozlov, so great move for them.  How the Oilers used the picks, excellent.
I was screaming for them to draft Deslauriers in the first round. Stoll
will replace Marchant in the not too distant future. Good trade.

MS:  I don’t understand this move from Lowe’s perspective. 
Finally the team had 6 legitimate (for Edmonton standards) top 2 line
forwards (Comrie, Smyth, Carter, York, Dopita, and Hecht).  And what
does Lowe do?  He trades one away, after a year where Hecht did nothing
to improve his value.  For all the moaning I’ve heard about Hecht’s
inconsistency he was 3rd on the Oilers for goal scoring last year (4th
if you count York who scored the vast majority of his goals for the Rangers). 
Lowe claimed he was trying to make room on the top 2 lines for up-and-comers
such as Hemsky, Rita, Horcoff, and Green.  If that were the case why
wouldn’t he have tried to dump Moreau instead?  I’m certain Hecht would
have been cheaper and more effective on the third line than Moreau. 
Additionally this could have helped to increase Marchant’s 3rd line output
for next year, which might be useful given how Lowe handled Marchant’s contract
issues later in the summer.  I suppose if they absolutely had to have
Deslauriers and if Hecht really didn’t like playing in Edmonton (as has
been rumored) that this was a good move by Lowe.  All things considered
it isn’t a move I would have made, from the outside looking in.

JH:  When Gary Bettman announced on draft day that
Edmonton had made a trade, my first thought was “Ah, so where’s Ethan headed?”
 When he said Jochen Hecht, I just about passed out.  Speaking
with various contacts prior to the draft, the general consensus was that
Hecht was poised to have a breakout season, maybe even score 25 goals,
so why on Earth would he be dealt instead of a guy like Moreau or Cleary
– guys who haven’t been carrying their weight?  The fact is, their
trade values are at an all-time low.  Add to the fact that Hecht was
reportedly unhappy as an Oiler and apparently had to be coaxed back to the
NHL from his home in Germany when told he was traded to Edmonton.  Though
I still think it was too early to deal Hecht, I can’t complain about the
return.  Deslauriers is a guy who should have gone in the first round
and is really the first legitimate goaltending prospect the Oilers have had
in years, and Stoll is a player I was hoping Edmonton would draft the first
time he was eligible (and is a potential replacement for Marchant in a couple
years).

LB:  A stunner, and makes sense only if the Oilers
either trade for another 2line forward or give the job to one of their top
drawer young players (Green, Hemsky, Rita). I think Hecht will have a quality
NHL career, but the payment was pretty rich. Love the goalie’s potential,
and Stoll looks pretty close. He very well could step in for Marchant at
the trade deadline 2003.

SM:  I soured on Hecht as the season went along, he
didn’t gel with any line. The guy has talent but didn’t impress me. Grabbing
the 2nd ranked goalie in the draft and a heart and soul player in Stoll should
pay dividends.

JC:  I like the deal a great deal for the Oilers. 
Losing Hecht won’t hurt the Oilers because he was a perimeter player and
didn’t play the power forward game that was expected of him and didn’t pop
in 20 goals which he should have.  Lowe offered him to the Flyers for
Lindros.  This is not the first time Lowe has tried to deal Hecht. 
Hecht didn’t want to come to Edmonton at first and the stunt he pulled (signing
with Mannheim in German Elite League) is not a good first impression. 
That being said, the Oilers get two really good prospects for the future
and may have found Salo and Marchant’s replacement.  Stoll will be
ready in a year and may make the line up as a 20-year-old.  Stoll has
great character and plays a gritty game and always plays with a passion. 
Deslaurliers was the top ranked North American goalie and is another player
with a great work ethic and grit.  Both are leaders and well liked
and play the game well. The Oilers are building a contender after the 2004
season and also building up a solid foundation like New Jersey and Colorado.

5.    Did not re-sign D Chris Hajt, allowed C Greg Leeb
and D Alain Nasreddine to walk as UFAs

DB:  No surprises here. Time to cut bait
and thin out the farm prospects until they have there own team next season.

MS:  These were all minor league guys whom Lowe
and company think have no future with the Oilers.  Given the impending
AHL roster crunch with the split affiliate these type of guys can’t be
kept to the detriment of the actual prospects, so this is just another business
transaction.  All 3 are obvious good moves, given Edmonton’s situation.

JH:  Greg Leeb did very little to show the team
he deserved a roster spot and Chris Hajt was being given so much ice-time
it was hurting the development of other players.  I don’t believe Leeb
or Hajt would have made the Oilers at any time, so I think the parting of
ways is as much in their best interest as Edmonton’s.  The only one
of these moves I’d question is not trying to re-sign Naz.  One of the
biggest problems the Bulldogs had last season was the lack of physical presence
(which they tried to address by bringing in Louie Debrusk) and losing Nasreddine
just exacerbates the situation.

LB:  In all three cases, these players were probably
cut loose because of the situation in Hamilton. Splitting the roster with
the Habs spelled the end of the line for these players with the Oilers organization.

SM:  Hajt, Leeb and Nasreddine are all extras. No
real loss in my opinion.

6.    Signed Tony Salmelainen to a three-year deal

DB:  I think that Tony will have a very
good career in Edmonton, and will be another reason why we all have to
thank Slats and Fraser for at least one last good draft.

MS:  What’s not to like about signing this guy? 
There will be size issues on the forward lines, with Comrie and York already
in the lineup, if he’s ready to make the team within a year.  That
can be dealt with at the time, but it’s good to see him under contract. 
Haven’t heard the terms, but it’s probably around the same numbers Semenov,
another 1999 second rounder, received (roughly 700K a year).

JH:  I don’t know much about Salmelainen aside
from the fact that he’s really fast and really small.  I’m not thrilled
about the size thing, given how small a lot of Edmonton’s roster is already,
but speed is always useful.  Put his on a line with George Laraque
– let Rocky make space and Salmie speed through the gaps.  Three-year
contracts are always good, especially for prospects.

LB:  I was happy with the signing, but impressed
more by Kevin Lowe’s quotes after he was signed. Lowe basically implied Salmelainen
has a shot this fall, and gushed over the prospect. I may be wrong, but
I don’t recall Lowe being as expressive when Comrie and Rita were signed.

SM:  Great to sign Salmelainen, want to see this
guy live.

JC:  Tony Salmelainen will be a great addition to
the Oilers line-up.  This guy loves the game of hockey and plays with
great passion.  Willing to play any forward position and any role on
his team.  Looks to be a future 2nd or 3rd liner who will score 20
goals.  Has blazing speed and grit, which are Oilers trademarks. 
Almost mandatory signing draft picks to 3-year deals.

7.    Signed Ales Pisa to a one-year, one-way deal.  Signed
Kari Haakana to a one-year deal.

DB:  I’m not convinced that Pisa can
help us. Not thrilled about this move.  I’m a little less sceptical
about Haakana, but only because I havn’t seen him as much. To be honest though,
I don’t see him being the 5th D man that they need.

MS:  Good signings. I really like Haakana from
what I saw last year in camp, I think he’ll be a great 6/7 guy for a year
or two in Edmonton. Pisa might be more of a project, but he is still younger
and the Oilers may have some top 4 aspirations for Pisa down the road.

JH:  Personally, I would have done it the other
way around and given Haakana the on-way deal.  I think Pisa will be
an NHL defenseman, but I think he should play another year in the AHL to
get his footing, so to speak.  Haakana, in my opinion, is already the
same calibre as many guys playing the 5th-6th-7th defender role on most NHL
teams.

LB:  Pisa – right handed shot, as a howitzer,
and a mean streak to boot. I suspect he’s the favourite for the number 6
job as the team heads to camp. The one way portion of the contract is probably
a tip off that he stays up with the big club, although I think the Oilers
can squash that by sending him back to Europe.  Haakana – another
overage Euro from the 2001 draft (Markkanen, Pisa), Haakana’s signing is
impressive since he went home last season. It tells me that either he’s
determined to make it in the NHL, or that the Oilers see him playing with
the big club this season, or both.

SM:  I thought Pisa was the odd man out, I have
not seen him enough to make an assessment.  I have been hearing big things
about Haakana, big and mean. Never have enough of those guys.

8.    Signed Kristian Antilla to a two-year deal, indicating
he’d be playing in North America in the coming season.

DB:  Adds to their much improved goalie
depth.

MS:  Given how few goalies Edmonton had under
contract (only Salo, Conklin, and Markannen) it can’t hurt to add another. 
I’m not sure where he’ll play next year; Conklin and Garon will likely
split the season in Hamilton.  There hasn’t been much news on exactly
what we can expect out of Antila, but I don’t think the Oilers have any
particularly high hopes for Antilla; perhaps he can be a good back-up down
the road.

JH:  For the Oilers, it always seems to be
famine or flood with goalies – for a while, they didn’t have any, then
they have a bunch under contract.  I don’t see Antilla playing a major
role with the Oilers, but acting as a “buffer backup” until Deslauriers
is ready.

LB:  Pretty bad news for Ty Conklin, I’d think,
and guys like Fomitchev are becoming a distant memory. The Oilers have enough
goaltending in the system now, and have some guys with tremendous upside.
This is an overlooked area of Kevin Lowe’s accomplishments.

9.    Offered Todd Marchant the standard 10% increase
RFA qualifying offer, effectively putting him on the trade clock. Marchant
accepted.

DB:  Why would you put yourself into
a position that makes him harder to trade, unless you’ve already tried
unsuccessfully. He will play out the string, and be moved for garbage or
a 3rd rounder at best.

MS:  This really seems like a foolish move
to me.  It seems as though Lowe has hurt Marchant’s trade value by
making him a UFA as opposed to keep him an RFA.  He could have qualified
Marchant as he did Jason Smith, but then told Todd he’d let him leave as
a UFA if he wants to sign for $1 million ( a slight pay cut) for the next
season.  Marchant would have really had a decision to make in that
case.  After all, that’s probably what moving Marchant is all about;
saving money.  I don’t see how Lowe can really think he’s improving
the team by removing a great shut-down 3rd line center like Marchant.

JH:  If Lowe wanted to move Marchant, he
should have done it at the trade deadline last season, when he could have
commanded a pretty steep price.  As it stands, if the sides aren’t
trying to hammer out a long-term agreement, or a trade does not happen prior
to opening night, the move is a huge mistake.

LB:  Likely spells the end of the line for
Marchant in Edmonton, probably by the trade deadline. Marchant is in the
upper echelon of his player type, it’s just not the player type who gets payed
the big dollars. If he scored 20 a season he’d be making 2 million more a
year. Gone.

SM:  Marchant has been a super Oiler, although
we all would have liked him to score a little more, one 20 goal season would
have been nice. On a team like the Red Wings this guy could be Draper, and
he would be an unsung hero but with the Oil we can’t afford expensive checkers.
I think the writing is on the wall, Marchant will be traded.

10.    Mike Grier accepts qualifying offer, the two sides
are now trying to hammer out a two-year deal (NOTE: between sending out the list and publishing the article, Mike Grier signed a one-year contract).

DB:  If I we’re the Oilers, I’d
go year to year with him. Inconsitant and injury prone.

MS:  Too bad you can’t give people pay
cuts and still keep their rights. I’m sure the Oilers would like to get
Grier tied up for 2 or 3 years.  The reason being, if you don’t and
he continues his up and down trend (thus scoring 20 goals this year) you
could get burned in arbitration next summer and be forced to pay him more
than you’d like.  Ideally Grier would sign for 3 years at 1.5 per
year, but I can’t see why he would do so from his POV.  Taking his
yearly 10% raise would net him more than that.

JH:  I think it’s time to move on.  I
love Grier, but he’s frustratingly inconsistent and prone to injuries that
keep him out of the line-up too often – the only reason I’d give him a
two-year deal is to make him easier to trade.

LB:  Grier has several things in his favor,
including the fact that the Oilers have fewer quality rw’s than lw’s. He’s
also scored 20 goals twice and will probably be healthy this upcoming season.
There are few things more exciting that watching Mike Grier hit people. Hope
he’s healthy enough to do it in 2002-03.

SM:  Grier. What can you say, this guy needs
to be better. He should accept anything the Oilers offer.  Shoulder or
no shoulder, the guy can’t pass or shoot. I would much rather get rid of
him.

11.    Indicated LW Alexei Mikhnov would stay in Russia
and play in the Elite League for one more season.

DB:  This move basically confirms
my belief that the Oilers don’t want any contracts they don’t need until
after 2004 is resolved. Take this to the bank, they will draft a European
skater next summer.

MS:  I would have been a big fan of
importing Mikhnov for the coming AHL season.  It would be much easier
to control the development/playing time with Mikhnov in Hamilton than in
Russia.  If he does receive top 2-3 line ice time with Dynamo next
year then I have no qualms at all with him remaining in Russia, especially
given the restricted Hamilton roster.

JH:  While it would have been nice
to see Mikhnov in the AHL, the roster restrictions make that near-impossible,
especially since Salmelainen is supposedly coming to North America.

LB:  Word is he’ll play on the 2line,
and possibly start putting that big body to good use. He’s gone from off
the radar map to at least being on the HF top 10 Oilers prospects. A big
season and we’ll all deny questioning that draft day decision.

SM:  Mikhinov should get to Hamilton.

12.    Indicated that room would be made for rookies,
but deals have not been made so far to clear up space.

DB:  Bring them on, I love
it. Chances of making the playoff are so slim anyways, unless they add a
significant defenseman.

MS:  This is a smart move by Lowe. 
He has to wait until he’s sure that one or two of Hemsky/Rita/Chimera/Green/Horcoff/Reasoner
can handle the second/third line before he can move move out some of the
depth.  If any of those 6 players prove to be ready I imagine we
will see one or more of Cleary/Moreau/Marchant/Grier dealt to make both
salary and roster room.

JH:  This year’s training camp will
be interesting, that’s for sure.  I think the big problem with Lowe
stating he’ll make room for rookies is that we have two rookies in Chimera
and Rita who are ready to play in the NHL, but we also have guys like Horcoff
and Green who deserve more ice-time than they’ve been getting.  Does
that mean Edmonton will be making room in the press box for the rookies…?

LB:  I expect there to be some major
activity either shortly before the camps open, or right after. If they sign
Hemsky, say goodbye to Cleary. If Rita looks good, then there will be at
least two “futures” trades at the end of camp.

SM:  There is a spot on RW, hopefully
Hemsky can fill that one. As for other deals to make room for Rita or Chimera,
we will have to wait and see. Lowe has a plan, and I am willing to wait for
the fruit.

13.    Gave some indication that if Jason Smith and Anson
Carter’s arbitration #’s look good, they may opt for 2 year deals on both
players.

DB:  Hopefully both will
be signed until 2004.

MS:  This is a no-brainer. 
If they get favorable terms obviously they’d like to tie the player up
until the potential lockout.

JH:  Can’t really argue with this
one, but Carter worries me.  Will this guy ever sign without
causing headaches?  I’d rather trade him and give his contract to Jason
Smith.

LB:  In Carter’s case he has some
real bargaining power: the Oilers don’t have a plethora of scoring wingers,
and Carter is coming off a 28 goal season. I expect him to sign a 2 year,
$5.3 million dollar deal.  Smith may end up getting dealt for a player
of similar talent. Someone like Kyle McLaren, perhaps. Smith will stay with
the club if they can settle for around 2.3/2.5, but there are rumours of
3 million per, and that’s too rich in my opinion.

SM:  Getting Smith and Carter to sign
2 year deals would be great. Smith needs to be better this season and Carter
has to be more consistent, but both are solid.

14.    Agreed to a deal in which they would split affiliation
of the Hamilton Bulldogs with the Montreal Canadiens for the 2002-2003
season and move their affiliation to a newly-established Toronto AHL franchise
for the following season.

DB:  Good business deal
for the Oilers. Not only did they piss off the Leafs, but now John Christie
gets to watch some great Oiler prospects first hand.

MS:  Long term this is a smart
business move.  Any money saved from the AHL franchise can be put
back into the NHL team, either strictly into the Oilers’ players budget
or perhaps into scouting/development, the lifeline of any small market team.

JH:  Business-wise, it’s a great
deal.  Hockey-wise, once they move to Toronto it’s great, but this
season it’s horrible.  Instead of having farm team to develop all of
their prospects they way they want, the Oilers now have roughly a dozen roster
spots on a team they no longer own.  I have never liked the idea of
split affiliations, because it gives a franchise just that much less control
over the development of their top prospects, plus one advantage of single-affiliation
farm systems is that the prospects are playing alongside guys they could
be playing with in the NHL one day.  I wish they’d been able to strike
a deal where Edmonton moves out of Hamilton and in to Toronto completely,
then Montreal moves in to Hamilton.

LB:  Master stroke by the team
in my opinion, if it saves as much as rumoured. This is a good news situation
even if they save only a million bucks.

SM:  I  think it is great to
split the farm for the season, gotta save the Oil some money.

Have an opinion of your own about one (or all) of these developments? Make yourself heard on the Edmonton Oilers message board at HFboards.com!

Staff